The Gender Gaps Shaping the Grammys

Awards season is upon us—and, along with it, much ado about persistent gender gaps in the entertainment industry. New research from the USC Annenberg Inclusivity Initiative serves as a powerful reminder that the Grammy Awards should be no exception—and that the music industry at-large has far to go to get to equal representation across lines of gender and race.

Staggering gaps in women’s representation across the music industry impact the Grammys—and shape culture. (James Munson / Creative Commons

Analysis by USC researchers of 700 chart-topping songs by 1,455 artists found that only 21.7 percent were by women—and only 12.3 percent of the songwriters and 2.1 percent of the producers were women. These numbers show that women make up a significant number of popular recording artists, even if they remain underrepresented—but that the people in control of their content are largely men.

Despite a stronger showing for artists of color—44 percent of the songs analyzed featured a non-white singer, and the recording artists with the most credits were Rihanna, the leading woman with 21 solo credits, and Drake, the leading man with 33—only four women of color producers were listed out of 871 total mentioned in the study. The numbers of songwriters, too, suffered from double-binds of racism and sexism: Max Martin, a white man, led with 39 songwriting credits; Nicki Minaj, who was the leading female songwriter, only had 18.

When 75 woman songwriters and producers were asked by USC researchers to name their biggest barriers to success, 43 percent reported that their skills were discounted by others in the industry. These gender gaps shape the Grammys: From 2013 to 2019, only 10.4 percent of Grammy nominees at-large were women.

The study’s authors outlined solutions that could help the music industry reach parity, including fostering all-female spaces and “creating environments where women are welcome.” The experiences of those same 75 women showed what impact that could have: 39 percent said they had been objectified, 28 percent said their ideas were dismissed and 25 percent said that they were the only woman in the room.

Gaps in gender representation across the music industry don’t just prevent women from advancing or achieving acclaim—they push them out of the studio. Time’s up on that kind of sexism. Instead, it’s time to demand action.

Ashley LeCroy is an editorial intern for Ms. and a passionate self-identified feminist who aims both to advocate and make space for the world’s most marginalized communities. Ashley is currently pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and English with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA—where she writes for FEM, the student-run feminist news magazine, and works on the Art Series staff for the Cultural Affairs Commission.

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Picks of the Week: Three Awkward, Activist, Women-Driven Coming-of-Age Stories Streaming Now

Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at to get each week’s pick delivered to your inbox.

Netflix Series of the Week: “One Day at a Time”

Created by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce

Still from Netflix Series of the Week: "One Day at a Time" 

“One Day at a Time” accomplishes something that is beyond most sitcoms’ abilities: it’s joyfully entertaining and yet incredibly educational and pointed politically. In just the first two episodes of the new season, the Netflix series manages to talk about coming out, male privilege and toxic masculinity. (I didn’t want to watch them all at once—so I could spread out the joy.)

Over the first two seasons, Elena, the teenage daughter played by Isabella Gomez, dealt with her sexuality. She now is finally out. At a family funeral, she spots a cousin who she is convinced is gay and in the closet. Turns out that cousin has been out—and that the whole family even attended her wedding.

The second episode deals with the objectification of women: When mom Penelope (Justina Machado) discovers her son’s private Instagram page and realizes that his version of a joke is actually really hurtful to women, she not only teaches him about toxic masculinity, but brings her lessons to work and schools the sexist co-worker whose behavior has been rubbing off on her son.

Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce have created a gem of a show. “One Day at a Time” uses the specificity of one family of color in Los Angeles to examine the social issues affecting everyone. (Melissa Silverstein)

Season 3 of “One Day at a Time” will be available on Netflix February 8.

Short Documentary of the Week: Song of Parkland

Directed by Amy Schatz

song of parkland still

It’s been less than a year since 17 people died at the hands of an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—but a lot has changed. The gun control movement has been reborn thanks to the teen activists who survived the shooting. There have been massive protests across the country calling on elected officials to put the public’s safety ahead of the NRA’s agenda. Following the events of February 14, 2018, there has been a palpable shift in the way our culture responds to gun violence.

In other words, beautiful things have formed in the tragedy’s aftermath. That’s the main idea of Amy Schatz’s new short HBO doc, Song of Parkland.

The film centers on Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama teacher Melody Herzfeld and her students, who decide to put on their annual children’s musical when the school re-opens. It’s an emotional ordeal, but a cathartic one as well. Herzfeld and her kids believe that the musical, “Yo, Vikings,” will bring some much-needed joy to the community—and they’re right. The show also allows them to express their grief and hope in a creative context.

A memorial for those who lost their lives on Valentine’s Day last year, a testament to resilience and art and a call to action, Song of Parkland reminds us that the personal is inherently political. It’s impossible to watch the Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama department stage their production and not think, “Why didn’t we protect them?” (Rachel Montpelier)

Song of Parkland will air on HBO February 7 at 7 p.m. EST and subsequently be available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.

Hulu Series of the Week: “PEN15”

Created by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle and Sam Zvibleman

"PEN15" still

If you combined the early-aughts setting of Lady Bird; “Eighth Grade’s” honest, cringe-inducing depiction of middle school; and the surreality, comedy, and lovely central female friendship of “Broad City,” you’d get something akin to “PEN15.” Named after a schoolyard prank, the new Hulu series is about best friends Maya and Anna (played by co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) navigating seventh grade in the year 2000.

And here’s the best part: Erskine and Konkle are both in their early 30s but are playing 13-year-old versions of themselves. However, the rest of their middle school peers are portrayed by actual adolescents. It’s weird, but it’s also kind of genius. Who among us doesn’t occasionally still feel like an awkward, clueless 13-year-old?

Also wonderful is “PEN15’s” frankness regarding puberty, and what it’s like for girls. Maya and Anna have a burgeoning interest in sex and thongs, but they also still enjoy playing with dolls and watching Ace Ventura ad nauseum. Even though they’re played by adults, these characters are recognizable, relatable and among pop culture’s best depictions of girls on the verge of womanhood. (RM)

All episodes of “PEN15” Season 1 will be available on Hulu February 8.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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In the Wake of #NunsToo, It’s Time for Repentance and Conversion

It didn’t take long for #ChurchToo to follow #MeToo as survivors came forward to name the harassment, abuse, and assault they had experienced at the hands of clergy. Now we’ve added #NunsToo to the list, as the Pope has at last publicly acknowledged priests’ abuse and sexual assault of nuns. All this, of course, follows on the scandal—still not fully exposed—of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.

It’s all so terribly mortifying—and even worse, not at all surprising.

The sexual abuse of nuns is not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is patriarchy—and the church’s participation in, benefit from and maintenance of sexist structures of power.(Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

Feminist theologians have been pointing out the patriarchal underpinnings of the church for decades; when feminist philosopher Mary Daly realized she couldn’t separate Christianity from patriarchy, she abandoned it all. While most feminist theologians don’t go quite that far, we remain clear in our calls for change that transformation won’t be found in a few tweaks to church policy.

What the Church needs—both the Roman Catholic proper and the notion universal—is conversion. Rather than being a radical, counter-cultural force for love and justice in the world, the Christian church has instead mostly been an active participant in a status quo that devalues, exploits and violates women with impunity. The church has shown that at its core, it believes in, embodies and propagates patriarchy.

Christian theology begins with misogynistic views of women’s responsibility for the Fall, women’s weaker nature, women’s greater distance from God-likeness, God’s inherent maleness, women’s exclusion from ordained ministry and male authority. Priests have a lifetime of being told that men are more like God than women, that women are subordinate to men, that women are temptresses responsible for men’s desire. Within the Church, they’re told they’ve been called by God—that they, and only they, have the power to administer the sacraments; that they act on behalf of God and in God’s stead.

In this context, how could anyone surprised that priests abuse nuns? 

Allowing priests to marry is not the answer for this problem—though that’s an important, separate question that the Church should address. Priests don’t rape nuns because they want to have sex. Priests rape nuns because they want to exert power. Allowing priests to marry won’t change that. (One needs to look no further than the number of married men who the world over commit sexual abuse and assault for proof.)

This is not a case of a few bad apples. Christian misogyny is institutionalized in the structures of the Church and the church, and these structures exist mostly to benefit men—particularly the men who receive the most power from them as priests and pastors. In the Church’s hierarchy, nuns answer to the authority of men. When men have unconstrained authority over women, abuse inevitably follows.

The proof is in what we are witnessing. The Church is still unable to come to a full accounting of its abuse of children; it still hedges, deflects and denies. The Church also knew about the abuse of nuns, long before the Pope’s acknowledgement—and in light of its excruciatingly slow response to child abuse by priests, the Pope’s promise to do something about the abuse of nuns doesn’t provide much comfort.

Exactly how much is the Pope willing to do anyway, if he still clings to the notion that women belong under the authority of men in God’s house? This Pope may be a kinder, gentler patriarch, but he is still a patriarch. He may be moving the Church forward on some issues, but he still reinforces women’s subordination. (This dichotomy alone reminds us how critical an intersectional analysis of power remains in communities of faith.) Radical reform of priests’ treatment of women will not come as long as the Church continues to teach that women are secondary—that women cannot represent Christ to the congregation and are somehow still just a little less like God than men.

The sexual abuse of nuns is not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is patriarchy—and the church’s participation in, benefit from and maintenance of sexist structures of power.

The way forward lies, ironically enough, in the language of theology. Repentance involves a deep and thorough self-examination of wrong-doing, a full accounting of the harm done and a sincere commitment to restitution and reparation. Conversion means making a 180: repenting and making right the wrongs done to women as well as transforming every inch of the life of the church from its center to ensure welcome, respect, equity and justice for them, across their differences and in every facet of life.

It’s time for the church to renounce its misogyny. It’s time for the church to refuse patriarchy. It’s time for us to construct a new beloved community—a true and inclusive kin-dom of God.

Susan M. Shaw, Ph.D., is a Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.

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The State of Paid Leave

It has been encouraging to see politicians on both sides of the aisle signal their support for a national paid parental leave plan in the days since President Trump’s State of the Union address. With any legislation, however, the devil is in the details—and the plan proposed by the administration to date is devilish indeed.

The plan proposed by the Trump administration thus far addresses leave only for parents of a new child, excluding the 75 percent of leave-takers who need time to care for their own serious illness or that of a loved one. It relies on funding through state unemployment insurance funds and offers amounts that are too small for most families, a formula that would result in cuts to those who get laid off.

The U.S. is an outlier when it comes to paid leave. As we work to catch up with the rest of the world, it’s important to ensure a decent floor that meets the “Triple A” test: accessible, affordable and adequate for all workers.

We need paid family and medical leave that values all care and every family, with a fair and sustainable funding method. We need solutions that eliminate, not exacerbate, existing disparities by income, race and gender.

Fortunately, we know what that looks like: the FAMILY Act, which will deliver a workable model and soon be proposed in the new session of Congress.

The FAMILY Act follows the lead of the states which have already successfully implemented paid leave programs that work for employees and business owners alike. It rests on a sustainable and cost-effective funding base—a social insurance model that pools small contributions from employees and employers so that workers can afford the time they need to heal or care for a loved one.

This week marks the 26th anniversary of the first and only family leave legislation in the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While a great first step, it leaves out 40 percent of the workforce; millions more who are covered by cannot afford the time, because it is unpaid.

We look forward to working with political leaders from both parties to pass the FAMILY Act. And as we work for meaningful paid leave, we will continue to call on this administration to stop hurting women and their families, who have been devastated by a host of this administration’s policies: the massive separation of families and daily terror and uncertainty for immigrant families, the attacks on women’s access to contraceptives and safe abortions, the tax cut that is adding to already grotesque inequities, the continuing assault on the social safety net and the onslaught against democracy.

WATCH: Family Values @ Work’s State of Paid Leave Address

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State of Paid Family and Medical Leave 2019

State of Paid Leave: Only 17 percent of U.S. workers have access to #PaidLeave via an employer. When people who deliver goods and services for us need to care for themselves or their kids, partners or parents, few can — and remain financially stable. Here's Family Values at Work's 2019 State of Paid Leave and how you can bring about change. #SOPL

Posted by Family Values at Work on Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Follow FV@W on Facebook to be notified next time they go live.

Ellen Bravo and Wendy Chun-Hoon are the co-directors of Family Values @ Work.

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The U.S. Has Never Needed Paid Family and Medical Leave More

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turned 26 this week, just as President Trump was preparing to talk paid leave during his State of the Union address.

The Family Medical Leave Act was an important first step. Now it’s time to pass the FAMILY Act. (MomsRising)

As the most female Congress in history gets to work, lawmakers have an urgent imperative to adopt comprehensive paid family and medical leave that allows all workers to care for their families without risking their jobs or financial security. No issue is more important to moms across the country.

Moms need paid leave to care for new babies, for sure, but also to care for a spouse or sibling who is battling heart disease or a parent struggling with dementia, or to recover from illness or injury.

Not just any paid leave program will do: The U.S. needs a comprehensive, meaningful paid leave program that covers all workers, addresses the range of caregiving needs families face, expands the definition of family, provides wage replacement sufficient to allow workers with low wages to take leave and ensures that the same or comparable jobs will be there when workers return from their leave.

We expect that, as with last year’s State of the Union, Trump’s lip service to paid leave will be followed with sparse details. In the past, his paid leave proposals have fallen far short of what working families need—providing only parental leave, doing nothing for workers who need leave to care for a sick family member or to recover from illness—and the benefits they would offer would not be meaningful, and would be especially inadequate for workers with lower incomes and wages. Their eligibility rules may even exclude the new parents who need leave the most.

That is not what the country needs.

Similarly, some Republican lawmakers have offered proposals that are deeply, even fatally, flawed—because they would reinforce stereotypes about women, require workers to trade future Social Security benefits for paid leave and/or provide inadequate job protections.

That would not be what our country needs.

Twenty-six years ago, the FMLA required certain employers to provide workers with 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to welcome a new child, care for an ill family member or recover from a serious illness. It was a vitally important starting point, but it does not meet the needs of working families or our economy today.

We need the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to boost moms and families, strengthen our economy, improve our health and make our workplaces more equitable.

The FAMILY Act, which we expect will be introduced in both the House and Senate very soon, would create a social insurance fund with small contributions from employees and employers; provide all workers with a meaningful amount of leave to meet the full range of caregiving needs; and be affordable, cost-effective and sustainable for workers, employers and taxpayers.

We want to be clear: A paid leave program that provides only parental leave is a non-starter for the millions of MomsRising members across the country who see paid family and medical leave as top priority issue.

Congress must pass the FAMILY Act, and President Trump must sign it into law. It’s time for the U.S. to finally give moms, and all workers, access to paid family and medical leave.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the author of Keep Marching and Executive Director and CEO of MomsRising—an on-the-ground and online grassroots organization of more than a million people who are working to increase family economic security, decrease discrimination against women and moms and build a nation where businesses and families can thrive. 

Ruth Martin is the Vice President of Workplace Justice Campaigns at MomsRising.

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The Ms. Q&A: How Reema Zaman Found Healing in Her Own Story

When Reema Zaman began writing the book that would become her fierce debut memoir, I Am Yours, she endeavored to assuage the personal pain and despair that emerged from her experiences with intimate partner abuse, sexual violence and anorexia. She thought that becoming the author of her own story would not only clear the path for her own healing, but perhaps provide healing for anyone else who needed it.

The “shared memoir,” in bookstores February 5, embodies a revolutionary act of compassion. Though uncannily timely and resonant in this era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the lasting grace of I Am Yours resides in her exquisite and lyrical voice, at once tender and searing, that bravely seeks to portray the timeless complexities of the female condition and speak truth to power. Her writing—woven out of threads pulled from her Bangladeshi childhood; her struggles to meet impossible standards of beauty and perfection in her former career as model and actress; her painful wounds carved from emotional abuse and sexual violence; and her courage in reclaiming her life, and voice, as her own—unpacks fraught and complex themes with piercing precision and eloquence. 

Zaman has launched her literary career to the sound of widespread critical praise. “I was enthralled by this beautiful book,” Cheryl Strayed, celebrated author of the bestselling memoir Wild, said of I Am Yours, “from the first page to the last.” 

The chorus singing praises in anticipation of Zaman’s memoir is a testament to the transformative nature of her story and the aching beauty of her words—and for this installment of the Ms. Q&A, she spoke to another author, Melanie Brooks. Zaman opened up about the journey that became I Am Yours, the power of stories as agents of empathy and who she hopes hears her warrior cry.

Reema Zaman’s memoir I Am Yours explores her experiences with intimate partner abuse, sexual violence and anorexia.

The story that fills the pages of I Am Yours of your resolve to liberate your voice from its place of silence resounds with so many of the conversations that are dominating our current and unprecedented cultural narrative. Your courageous and unflinching portrayal of your experiences with sexual assault, an abusive marriage and anorexia are necessary and relevant. Did the themes inherent in this particular cultural moment influence your writing?

This book began as a response to my own spirit, not a cultural movement. I began the writing process in 2013, feeling that very few people would want to read of my experiences with trauma. When I researched agents in 2014, many of them specifically wrote “will not read about terrorism or rape,” so I had to figure out how to write about trauma in a way that could retain the reader’s attention.

In acting, we’re taught the two things that retain attention are comedy and beauty. I knew if I wanted to go deep, I couldn’t use humor as my audience retention. It had to be beauty. I learned to write poetic language because it helps the reader stay inside the pain with me, as I guide them through the dark ocean to reach the other side of healing, closure and strength. Beauty in any form helps soften the cruelty of life.

I started writing the book on November 28, 2013, and I was working on it until October 16, 2018, right up to the moment it went to press. Over these five years, I’ve evolved, society has evolved, so the manuscript evolved. From Trump’s election, to the #MeToo movement, to the Kavanaugh hearings, I’ve returned to the manuscript to become more deliberate and forthright about the political resonances of this personal story, to be more articulate in the topics I explore—healing and rising from sexual assault, navigating intimate partner abuse, understanding the disease that is anorexia and the social constructs that are tied to its roots, understanding patriarchy, understanding how a woman reclaims and uses the power of her voice. I’ve realized that although I didn’t ask for my experiences, I can serve this cultural moment in an impactful way.     

In I Am Yours, you allow your readers an intimate look at your process of reclaiming your voice and we become part of your writing journey in a meta way. Was talking about writing your story as you were writing it a conscious choice from the start?

Talking about authoring one’s voice felt like the perfect metaphor for a woman coming to life—especially with my background as an actress where all the words I ever spoke were the ones assigned to me. In my past life, I didn’t feel like a disembodied voice—I felt like a dis-voiced body. The call to action, Only I author my life, is pertinent to us all, but it felt vividly significant for myself, a woman who had been ritually silenced by so many forces.

To reclaim my body and my voice, I had to speak myself into being. It felt logical to parallel the journey of the writing process with my journey into independence. In memoir, there is a penultimate journey, and different memoirs will use different adventures as the spine of that journey. In Eat, Pray, Love it’s a geographic journey—Italy, India, Indonesia—or the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild, another physicalized journey.

I’d already gone through a physical adventure in my first 30 years—through the challenging terrain of Bangladesh, Thailand, New York—and the final act was one of homecoming. Homecoming to my mother and homecoming to my body and my voice. The most powerful homecoming and the most accurate metaphor would be writing this book. 

So much of your book’s beauty lies in its form. You shape it as a love letter to yourself—to your ever-present inner voice—and you offer your readers snapshots of pivotal moments in your life’s chronology that both nourished and starved her. Did the writing take that form initially? Were there intentional decisions that you made along the way to develop that structure?   

One of the huge accidental benefits for the book and for my voice is that I don’t have any formal training. I had never read a memoir with the intent, “Now I’m going to use this to learn how to structure my own memoir.” The shape of I Am Yours comes from that complete openness of having no preconceived notion of how one should structure a book if one wants to succeed.

I’ve kept a journal since I was 10 yours old, but it wasn’t until I was married that I began to write essays, daily, to make sense of the gaslighting in that relationship. The writing was my inner voice’s survival instinct, the words sent as its last dying gasps to stay alive. In my marriage there was less and less opportunity for me to speak. The more abusive he grew, the more insistently my inner voice began to write, my brain and my soul intuiting that by making sense of what was happening, I’d give myself the nourishment needed to stay alert. The writing gave me the strength to speak back to him, to strategically detach from that life, from that man. Typing those essays gave me self-esteem and a sense of solidarity, even if the solidarity was my voice and I on the page. It was enough. The page and my voice were the only friends I had.

I was 28 when he and I separated. I realized that as my writing had been so crucial in my freedom from him, perhaps, if I developed those words into a book, it could hold power for others. As an actress, to prepare for a role, I’d create a timeline of the pivotal events in a character’s life. This backstory of the character, with quintessential scenes from her childhood and young adulthood, wouldn’t be in the actual play but would inform my portrayal of her.

After my ex-husband and I separated, I mapped the timeline of my own life. Age by age, I went through my entire history, asking: how did I become this woman? On the page, I saw my truth: from girlhood to late twenties, the list of the formative wounds I had encountered in life that resulted in my silence, and the cruelties I had witnessed and sensed happening to other girls and women in my family, in school, on the subway, out in the world. I saw so clearly that the silencing of a person’s voice will result in a splicing between the authentic self and the inner wounded child.

At the bottom of the timeline I wrote: “I won’t be sliced any longer. I need to align.” It was a warrior cry for myself, my refusal to live as a narrative of pain. I realized this was the story I was born to tell: the silencing of a girl, the reclamation of a voice.

I kept that timeline in the final book–it’s the axis on which a woman’s life swings. From there, my daily assignment was to wake up and write, age by age. Today, “I am 3,” and I’d write that section to completion. Tomorrow, “I am 4.” The following day, “I am 5,” and so on. The book developed chronologically; I healed chronologically. I chose that simple, straightforward structure so that any reader can heal along with the narrative—the ages and wounds in their life that are similar to mine.

I wrote I Am Yours for anybody who has gone through something similar, and for people who haven’t gone through a similar experience but want to become more empathic and aware of what happens within that experience, so that we can evolve as a society. Publishing a book is a huge responsibility. The biggest goal and purpose of this book is to provide medicine: a call to action, an invitation of empathy, a healing balm.

You’ve published excerpts of this memoir leading up to its release, you’ve performed publicly some of its scenes, you’ve spoken to different audiences about its themes and content, so you’ve already received feedback from people who are reading or hearing your story and identifying with your circumstances. What have those responses meant to you?

It’s been incredible. I’m feeling a deep sense of connection and sense of place in this world from hearing how my words have been empowering for so many strangers—people who are no longer strangers because once you’ve read my work, we become family. To hear their loving praise gives me such pride and gratitude, and the affirmation that this is precisely what I was born to do. I’m so honored to serve others in their journey into their bravest, boldest self. To speak is a revolution. To know that my voice is now igniting others is the most profound fulfillment.

You are about to send your child into the world with the launch of I Am Yours on February 5th. Can you describe what this moment is like for you?   

The metaphor of a book being like one’s child is accurate, but for me, my memoir was also my parent. Writing this book helped me re-parent myself, and it was definitely the thing that kept me alive.

I Am Yours healed my anorexia—which is no small feat—and it gave me a new ability to live without existing inside a slow demise. Releasing this book into the world feels so right because I don’t need it anymore. It doesn’t need me anymore. That’s really beautiful. I’m a grateful, lucky conduit for this book. My job has been to carry it, protect it, give it all the nourishment I possibly can—and now I’m overjoyed to let it travel. It’s been an honor to be its parent and its child, and now I have to let it do the work it’s meant to.

My hope is it arrives in the hands of those who need it—to midwife them through their healing, to hold their hand as they navigate their trauma, to be their embrace through any heartbreak. To be their person in the dark.

That’s one of the final lines, and one of my favorites, in the book: “You have been my person in the dark. Perhaps I have been yours. How lovely that being human soothes the ache of being human.”

Melanie Brooks is a professor at Northeastern University, Merrimack College and Nashua Community College and a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in publications including the Washington PostCreative Nonfiction, the Huffington PostModern Loss, Hippocampus, Bustle and Solstice Literary Magazine, and she is the author of Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma. Melanie is completing a memoir, All the Things I Couldn’t Say, about the lasting impact of living with the secret of her father’s HIV status. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, two children and yellow Lab.

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Picks of the Week: Complex, Female-Led Stories Come to Life in “Russian Doll” and “Daughter of Mine”

Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at to get each week’s picks delivered to your inbox.

This Week’s Pick: “Russian Doll” (Series)

Created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler

Like Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day before it, Netflix’s “Russian Doll” sees its lead character re-living the same day over and over. Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) can’t escape her 37th birthday celebrations alive. She gets hit by a car, falls down stairs and finds death lurking behind pretty much every corner. The gifted video-game engineer is determined to find the bug in the universe’s code that brings her death—and re-birth—day after day.

A surreal story about mortality, morality and what it means to be human, “Russian Doll” reveals layer after layer in each 30-minute episode. Hilarious and tragic by turns, creators Lyonne, Amy Poehler and “Sleeping with Other People” writer-cum-director Leslye Headland go far beyond “Russian Doll’s” gimmicky-sounding premise and take it to unexpectedly deep and dark places.

The series is a great showcase for Lyonne’s talents—she also co-wrote “Russian Doll” and directed an episode. (All eight installments are helmed by women. Joining Lyonne behind the camera are Headland and her “But I’m a Cheerleader” director Jamie Babbit.) Plus, “Orange Is the New Black” fans will be happy to see that some of the multi-hyphenate’s cast-mates from the prison dramedy have come along for the ride. (Laura Berger)

“Russian Doll” premieres on Netflix February 1.

This Week’s Pick: Daughter of Mine

Directed by Laura Bispuri; Written by Laura Bispuri and Francesca Manieri

Sometimes it’s hard to watch, but Daughter of Mine is a film filled to the brim with empathy. The story centers around a girl about to turn 10, the woman she believes is her mother and the biological mother who just wasn’t ready for parenthood. Laura Bispuri’s second narrative feature explores love, maturity and desperation—and refuses to judge any of its characters.

Tina (Valeria Golino) has raised Vittoria (Sara Casu) pretty much since her birth, when Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) gave her up. Tina and Vittoria are incredibly close, but things aren’t perfect: Tina’s entire identity is wrapped up in her motherhood and Vittoria has no friends. Angelica is a free spirit who’s always short on money and is as passionate about life as she is volatile.

Facing the prospect of leaving town due to a cash flow problem, Angelica decides to get to know Vittoria while she still can. Vittoria is quickly smitten: she sees Angelica as the fun, worldly older sister she’s always wanted, a person to have fun with who isn’t her mom. As Vittoria and her birth mother grow closer, Tina feels more and more threatened—and frightened she’s losing her daughter. Angelica, however, becomes more and more maternal toward Vittoria, but she knows deep down she doesn’t have the capacity to raise a child.

The best part of Daughter of Mine is that there is no hero or villain. Instead, Tina, Angelica, and Vittoria are all just human. As you watch the emotional desires and needs of these three characters collide, you wish there was some way both mothers could have Vittoria. And you pull for Vittoria to receive the stability and care she requires and the friendship she craves. There’s no right answer, and that’s why Daughter of Mine sticks with you. (Rachel Montpelier)

Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Laura Bispuri.

Daughter of Mine opens in NY and LA February 1. Find screening info here.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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Ms. Smith Goes to Washington: Inside the Modern Send-Up of a Classic Political Story

Hundreds of feminists, seated in long wooden benches under the vaulted ceilings of the Los Angeles City Council Chambers, bore witness last week to a historical revisitation fit for the current political moment: a gender-bending update on the classic 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Director Stephen Sachs adapted the classic screenplay to feature a female Senator in the titular role and include discussions of gender in politics through the lens of corruption in Washington post-World War II. Before one-night celebrity reading of Ms. Smith goes to Washington began, hosted by The Fountain Theatre at a part of their 2019 FemFest, he called for ongoing partnerships between city governments and local artists.

“We believe that theater,” Sachs explained, “can be a trigger for social action.” The cast—including Joshua Malina (Scandal, The West Wing), Jeff Perry (Scandal), Sam Waterston (Law & Order, Grace and Frankie) and Bellamy Young (Scandal)—helped him prove that night just how powerful that vision can be.

Each member shone in their roles, but some of the most poignant moments of the evening were delivered out of the mouths of babes—specifically, 16-year-old Aurelia Myers. She played a young girl who inspires her father, the Governor, to appoint Ms. Smith to the Senate, disobeying the corrupt boss of a political machine in their state. 

At one moment, Myers made space for levity and also called to attention the gender disparity in the chamber—where women currently hold only 25 percent of seats. “Dad,” she exclaimed at once to laughter from the audience, “this is 1939, not the Dark Ages!” 

Sachs avoided naming a specific state or political party in his adaptation, and in maintaining the story’s 1939 setting, the performance was able to tow the line between a night of entertainment and a rallying cry. But in the shadows of the City Council chambers’ marble arches, the evening also felt like a celebration of the feminists currently fighting for equality in Washington—just like Ms. Smith.

“It is the arts that remind us of our common humanity,” Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (CA-13), an event sponsor, said when he opened the reading—adding that, when the division and disappointing defining Capitol Hill today become history, “we are going to owe the arts and women a great deal.” 

During Myers’ plea to her father, she echoes the sentiment in a declaration that, no matter the era, remains revolutionary: “Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman.” 

Madison Pontz is a passionate storyteller and driven communications professional with on-the-ground campaign experience and expertise in editorial writing and real-time social media management. She graduated summa cum laude from The George Washington University with a B.A. in Political Communication and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies and is currently the Development Associate at the Feminist Majority Foundation.

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Stop Prosecuting Abortion!

It was no surprise when candidate Donald Trump mused about punishing women who have abortions. The logical consequence of abortion bans—and indeed, all false claims that equate abortion or birth control with murder—is sending women to jail.

This isn’t just theory or speculation. It’s already happening. 

According to a report by the SIA Legal Team, at least 21 people have been arrested in the U.S. for self-managing abortion since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 in Roe v. Wade that abortion was legal. This number is a subset of more than 1,000 arrests, detentions and forced medical interventions that have faced pregnant women across the country—including arrests of women for taking abortion pills on their own, forced C-sections and states appointing legal representation for fetuses.

Some of those women hail from Virginia, where I live—and where, despite a governor and attorney general who are considered reproductive rights champions, this still happens. Michelle Roberts faced felony charges for self-managed abortion, which were dropped in October 2018. Katherine Dellis was convicted after having a miscarriage at home, and later pardoned by Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) in June last year. 

It is a national concern to stop prosecuting abortion. It’s not just bad laws and bad politicians that are being used to violate basic human rights for women and pregnant people—it’s bad prosecutors who think they know better, bad judges hungry to punish women and bad law enforcement officials and medical staff who call turning people in for suspected abortions “pro-life.”

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a future dystopia tale. For women across the country—most especially poor people, women of color and residents of states where politicians have purposefully made abortion extremely difficult to access—it hits eerily and scarily close to home.

A new effort led by Reproaction, an organization I co-founded, aims to change that. Our Stop Prosecuting Abortion campaign discusses the real-life consequences of punishing women for pregnancy outcomes, and backs it up with innovative actions to help this country change course.

The campaign launched with a press conference on the morning of the so-called “March for Life” at the National Press Club—including Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation; Indra Lusero, staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women; Jennifer Wang, deputy director of programs at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; Renee Bracey Sherman, Senior Public Affairs Manager at National Network of Abortion Funds; and myself. From there, Reproaction and allies, including Feminist Majority Foundation and the Women’s Information Network, led a counter-demonstration at the March for Life demanding accountability from protesters who are calling for an end to Roe.

FMF’s latest National Clinic Violence Survey spotlights the persistent threats facing providers nationwide. And in ReproAction’s first in a series of videos in which abortion opponents share a range of alarming views about punishing women who have abortions, we spotlight Operation Save America, an extreme national group that has met with government officials including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R-KY).

This year marked the first Roe anniversary since abortion opponents secured a five-seat Supreme Court majority with power to overturn or gut Roe, and that’s why it was important for us to launch this campaign in time with the so-called “March for Life.” We wanted to express peaceful, proud support for abortion rights and represent the views of the nearly three in four Americans who say they don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. 

And we will continue fighting on until women are free to make the choices they want to make—without fear of reprisal from the state.

Erin Matson is a feminist organizer and writer recognized for creativity, vision, breakthrough campaigns and fearless advocacy and storytelling. She is the co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice, and also serves on the board of directors of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation. Previously, she served as editor at large for Rewire and as action vice president of the National Organization for Women.

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Ms. Muse: Mary Oliver’s Escape

feature image via Charlotte Olivia on the official Mary Oliver Facebook page.

We’re carving out a new discovery place for riotous, righteous and resonant feminist poetry to nourish and give voice to a rising tide of female resistance—and you’ve clicked right into it. Click here to read more Ms. Muse.

“I don’t like buildings,” she said matter-of-factly to Krista Tippett in a rare 2015 interview.

As a girl, Mary Oliver often wandered alone in the woods with a copy of Whitman’s poetry in her backpack, a small notebook and a pencil. Of her habit, she said: “I think it saved my life. To this day, I don’t care for the enclosure of buildings.”

Photo: Vivian Felten

Oliver’s repetition of the word “buildings,” such a clunky noun, might seem an awkward generalization coming from this great American poet, our bestselling poet, a woman who made a life of selecting words with care and precision.

And who doesn’t like “buildings” categorically? On average, Americans spend 93 percent of their lives passing from one building to another, day after day, decade after decade. Here is a woman who usually woke around 5 a.m. and spent entire mornings walking and “scribbling.” Is this partly because she never in her adult life felt fully comfortable indoors—not even her own home?

In 2011, Oliver told Maria Shriver in an interview that her father had sexually assaulted her as a child. With Tippett, she spoke briefly of her “very bad childhood” and the “very dark and broken house” into which she was born. In her poem “Rage,” she wrote what she described as “perfect biography, unfortunately—or autobiography.”

She added: “I couldn’t handle that material except in the three or four poems that I’ve done—just couldn’t.”

The narrator speaks of a father:

stumbling through the house
to the child’s bed,
to the damp rose of her body,
leaving your bitter taste.
And forever those nights snarl
the delicate machinery of the days.
When the child’s mother smiles
you see on her cheekbones
a truth you will never confess;
and you see how the child grows–
timidly, crouching in corners.

The speaker’s reference to an unconfessed truth foreshadows a damning end: “in your dreams you have sullied and murdered, / and dreams do not lie.”

“Yeah, well, he never got any love out of me—or deserved it,” Oliver says of her father when Tippet inquires further. “But mostly what makes you angry is the loss of the years of your life, because it does leave damage. But there you are. You do what you can do.”

The image of “crouching in corners” suggests bent, elbow-like corners of rooms holding a huddled human figure. Oliver’s words echo in my head: “To this day, I don’t care for the enclosure of buildings.” The word “enclosure” means “to close in,” “to surround,” “to fence off for individual use,” “to hold in” and “confine.”

This claustrophobic take on “buildings” reminds me of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s take on doors. I recall the research psychologist saying she had a second front door. Who has a second front door installed in their home?

In her testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Blasey Ford recalled a counseling session with her husband. “In explaining why I wanted to have a second front door,” she explained, “I described the assault in detail.” I envision the narrow stairwell and the upstairs bedroom in which she describes a young, drunk Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her in front of his male friend. Then only 15, she escaped and locked herself in a bathroom.

What happened within Ford in that small room? She knew she was still not safe, that she had to exit. She had to go down the stairwell on which she’d just heard Kavanaugh and his friend drunkenly bumping against the walls like ping pong balls. She heard their voices combine with others downstairs. She knew she had to pass them to get out the front door—the only front door.

Ford managed to leave that house quickly—and she has never stopped making sure she can leave, making sure there’s a second exit strategy.

Trauma affected both of these women to such a degree they changed their daily habits and/or environment to accommodate their suffering. For a young Oliver, the scene of the crime was “home,” and so the natural world became her escape. She left her father’s house the day after her high school graduation and spent the rest of her life leaving by wandering and writing about the woods, ponds, fields, estuaries, harbors and beaches into which she disappeared.

“And I escaped it, barely, with years of trouble. But I did find the entire world in looking for something,” she goes on to say. “I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” Exiling herself from the man-made world, to whatever degree she could, Oliver’s daily ritual defined both her life and work.

Photo: Vivian Felten

As a young woman first reading Oliver, I loved the meditative, prayer-like power of her voice. But I was a city girl raised on Watergate and Vietnam, and wondered why Oliver seemed to ignore more urgent subjects like injustice, oppression and war. She wasn’t known for addressing racism, sexism or classism; nor did she focus much on environmental issues, a paradox I couldn’t figure out. The challenges of being gay and being out never seemed to make it into her poems. She often seemed to me a famous white woman living a rarified life, spending long mornings strolling and dreaming. Did she hire a housekeeper, I wondered? I tried to picture Oliver and her life partner, Mollie, vacuuming, much less scrubbing floors.

Sure, Oliver may have read Rumi every day, but what did she know of the 21st century? Her poems seemed like dispatches from paradise. I remember reading Oliver, loving Oliver, but wishing she’d walk around a major city, find a massive parking lot and write about the beauty of the world from that perspective. Write about people’s faces, graffiti, gleaming metal, litter, trees pushing up concrete—and buildings.

Mary Oliver seemed a stranger to the world I knew, but I learned to accept all she offered instead of asking her to speak a language foreign to her. I entered her poems and took what I could get. And they never stopped giving.

I also learned that before Oliver became one of America’s bestselling poets, she’d chosen a minimal life so that writing could be her day job. “Best selling” and “poet” are not words that know each other well. They are not usually found next to each other, and the first two rarely modify the latter. Remarkably, Oliver’s tendency to avoid the pursuit of money and objects had brought her unsought, unlikely commercial success. But along the way, on her long walks, she often gathered clams, mussels, mushrooms and berries. She searched the dump—an image incongruent with my ignorant assumptions. As a girl, she’d made a list of all the things she was prepared to never have if she became a writer.

“I had a $100 car I used to stop by hitting a brick wall,” she once told students at a college Q&A. “It was a wonderful life.”

After Mary Oliver died on January 17, I read her 2011 interview with Shriver for the first time. Near the end, she spoke of wanting to write about “personal material,” wanting to be “braver and more honest” about her life. In that moment she chose to reveal publicly her childhood sexual abuse for the first time.

When Shriver asked if age—she was 76 at the time—had made her braver, Oliver instead credited “the forerunners who have dared to tell.” Again, I thought of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, then America’s most recent “forerunner” who “dared to tell.” Of course, Oliver is technically a forerunner, but admitted having been surprised that she’d even written a handful of poems like “Rage.” She also described being “very moved by Eve Ensler’s courage.”

The next words out of Oliver’s mouth stunned me.

Photo: Vivian Felten

“I now know it is a subject or theme I will not be avoiding,” she declared. “There will always be birds, but I’m gonna broaden out a little bit, or maybe a lot.” She also claimed to have one new “brave” poem that needed to be typed.

The fact that this master poet, in the last decade of her life, felt inspired by other women writers to be “braver”—and worked to write those new poems—suggests that Mary Oliver finally exited the building that had once sucked all the air out of her body, and escaped that “broken house” of her childhood once and for all.

Chivas Sandage is a digital columnist at Ms. and the author of Hidden Drive, a finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards in poetry. Her poems and essays are forthcoming or have appeared in Ms., The Rumpus, Salmagundi, Southern Humanities Review and Texas Observer, among others. She is at work on a nonfiction book about the double shooting of a lesbian teenage couple in Texas. Tweet her @ChivasSandage.

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